AFRL holds Innovation Challenge

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base held the culminating event of the Hyperspace Challenge–a Pitch and Demo contest– at the UNM Lobo Rainforest Building here Nov. 15. The Hyperspace Challenge is a unique “hyper-accelerator” aimed at discovering start-up companies that are developing innovative, new technology for the commercial space sector and directly connecting them to defense problem areas. The event paired 10 start-up companies with Geospatial Data Analytics solutions ranging from artificial intelligence to big data fusion and drone imaging technology with six problem areas sponsored by warfighters from the Air Force and Army. The challenge facilitated in-depth interactions between the companies and problem sponsors, culminating in the “pitch event” where each company quickly described how their technology could be best mapped as a solution to the selected problem. “Our intent behind this approach is to connect with the latest innovations coming out of areas such as Silicon Valley and leverage it for DoD purposes,” said Gabe Mounce, program manager for the Air Force Space Accelerator Program. “We don’t want to turn these companies into defense specific suppliers …  we want them to be aware of our mission needs early on as they pursue success in the commercial market.” The top three teams received monetary awards. CrowdAI, a geospatial deep learning artificial intelligence company out of San Francisco, and a previous “Y-Combinator” graduate, won the $25,000 first prize. “This event was highly valuable because it put us directly in front of the [military] customer, something we didn’t get before,” said CrowdAI’s CEO Devaki Raj.  Y-Combinator is the country’s premiere start-up accelerator, having launched well-known companies Uber, Airbnb and 23andMe. The second-place, $15,000 award, went to Enview, an automated 3D Geospatial Analytics Company based in San Francisco. The third place, $10,000 award, went to Novi LLC, an intelligent data fusion company from Las Vegas. Post-event, each company receives continued hands-on liaising with an Air Force team to facilitate opportunities for the technology toward DoD-systems. The Hyperspace Challenge ( is the initial Albuquerque activity of the larger Air Force Space Accelerator Program (ASAP) operated by AFRL in collaboration with the Air Force’s innovation shop, AFWERX.  According to Mounce, the ASAP is the Space element of AFWERX’s Air Force Technology Accelerator portfolio. The ASAP is currently operating a technology accelerator in Colorado Springs, Colo., to uncover the latest innovation coming out of Silicon Valley around precision, navigation and timing–a key focus area for the Air Force Space enterprise. An accelerator in Los Angeles is being planned for next year